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Students benefit from Oyster Festival Education

Chuck Epes of Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows a young visitor a “jimmy” crab at the Urbanna Oyster Festival waterfront on Nov. 7. The waterfront exhibits emphasized the heritage and conservation of the bay. (Photo by Vera England)

by Vera England

Were you among the Urbanna residents who have had questions about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation deadrise full of students poking around the creek recently?

Cold, rain and wind did not dampen the high spirits of students from Middlesex County and Christchurch School who investigated the river with Yancey Powell and Jimmy Sollner of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “Bea Hayman Clark,” no matter what the day’s weather brought.

During the hustle and bustle of the community’s Oyster Festival preparations, teachers in the local schools were preparing their students to participate in the Festival Waterfront’s Education Program, which culminated two weeks of on-the-water activities with Education Day on the day before the festival.

Thanks to the individuals, businesses and agencies that donated their time and materials, and the volunteers who helped make the event run smoothly, this year’s Education Program was a wonderful success! But unless you tried to go to the waterfront on Thursday, November 6, you may not even realize it happened.

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Marine Science Legacy Program and the Festival Waterfront coordinators would like to thank the following for their assistance in making our festival education program unique in the state: Pam Simon for her unending patience; Lewis Filling for safety and road arrangements; Dianne Franck and Walt Simon of the Town Marina for making our waterfront welcoming and taking care of every detail; Bonnie and Jim Vautrot for allowing us to park at Liberty; Suzanne and Lee Chewning for providing accommodations for our CBF educators; JD and Moo Dodd and their employees for providing exhibitor lunches, even in the aftermath of disaster; and our stalwart volunteers, Don Lowrey and Lynn and Jim Vajda, who have returned year after year.

For assistance in organizing this year’s program, thanks go to Cynthia Rowles of Middlesex County Extension Office 4-H Program. Kris Jarvis Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Project WET provided educational materials to all of the schools. Middlesex County Public Library compiled lists of resources for students and teachers. 

Thanks to Jimmy and Yancey of CBF for their two weeks of tireless enthusiasm on the water, and to Jill Bieri of Chesapeake Bay Experience for her kayak trips with Middlesex High School. We are grateful for the wholehearted support of Middlesex County Public School Superintendent Rusty Fairheart; assistant superintendent Rashard Wright; principal James Lane of St. Clare Walker Middle School; and principal Chris Valdrighi of Middlesex High School. 

Special thanks go to the local high schools, which became exhibitors instead of onlookers; to John Porter of Middlesex High School and his enthusiastic environmental science students; who teamed with other exhibitors and with younger students to help teach what they have learned (They were invaluable!); to Sarah Beam of Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School and her students, who explained water quality testing; and to Dave Cola and Dean Goodwin of Christchurch School and their students, who introduced sea life by means of a touch tank of river creatures.


Many of our Education Day presenters were individuals or businesses who came to the festival a day early, at their own expense, to be a part of Education Day. Thanks to: Greg and Laura Lohse and crew of the schooner “Alliance”; the pirates of Hysterically Correct Productions; Colonial Seaport Foundation that taught about our maritime history; Doug McMinn of Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company; Rufus Ruark of Shores and Ruark Seafood and Richard Shores of the Middlesex County Museum, who explained modern oyster farming: Lacey and Hannah England of Townes Site Engineering with wetlands identification; Joey Williams, Kenneth Smith and crew of Virginia Waterman’s Association who demonstrated crab pot making; and Jimmy Meredith and Carol Marder of Hammer Time Marine who discussed problems with bay shorelines. 

Environmental groups were well represented by Chan Chandler and Jim Renner of Tidewater Oyster Gardeners, who explained oyster filtration; Sara Stamp and Frank Herrin of Middle Peninsula Planning District and Friends of Dragon Run explaining the Dragon’s watershed and species; LaVerne Calhoun and others from Tidewater Soil and Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Services who discussed water conservation and erosion; Paula Jasinski and crew of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration John Smith Water Trail, who helped children build a buoy; and John Scott of Yorktown-Jamestown Foundation, who explained the cultures of Jamestown.

Not the least of the thanks goes to the hard-working teachers who brought the St. Clare Walker 6th grade, Middlesex Elementary 4th grade, and Chesapeake Academy 4th, 5th, and 6th grades to participate, despite the drizzle and wind at the waterfront. Their dedication helps to provide students with “a meaningful watershed experience,” a goal of the state for every student before graduation.

Thanks to the contributions of all the participants, over 500 students of all ages were able to work cooperatively to learn about the bay and its heritage. Many children returned with their parents to the waterfront exhibits over the weekend to show them what they learned: to touch a fish, to sing with a pirate, to investigate a wetland, and to climb aboard a schooner.

Thanks to the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation for sponsoring the Marine Science Legacy Program and the Waterfront Education Program, and for making our festival a celebration of our children and our heritage as well as the oyster! We welcome your support in the future to keep all this happening at the waterfront.

Vera England is the Marine Science Legacy Coordinator of the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation.

posted 11.19.2008

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